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Devil's Plantation - Elemental Films

the devil’s plantation: Cochno film

posted on
31 October 15

Mission Impossible

Yesterday I posted a short video about the recent test dig at the Cochno Stone on Vimeo.

Here’s a link – Revealing the Cochno Stone

Back in early September I didn’t intend to do anything other than record the dig for archival purposes since a wholesale excavation and replication of the Stone has yet to be determined. But having shot over three days I realised the value of making a video not because I’ve been commissioned – I haven’t – but to get to grips with my new edit suite and test the various tools in preparation for my next feature film, Voyageuse.

So far the response – over 100 views in less than 12 hours – has been positive. Clearly there’s a lot of interest in rock art generally and the Cochno Stone in particular. As projects go, to excavate and replicate the Stone is an exciting prospect but one that will take a lot of effort to achieve, requiring permissions, funding, willing participants and the technical wherewithal. Of course, should the project ever happen it would great to produce a more substantial film. Sitting here in my shed, however, the notion of producing a fully-fledged film about the Stone seems remote.

Recently I was mentioned in a piece by Pat Kane, writing in The National about Scottish film, or rather, the lack of indigenous production. A week later Creative Scotland announced a £1.75m Production Growth Fund aimed explicitly at high-end films and TV coming to Scotland, a strategy that on paper doesn’t exclude indigenous films but given the anticipated budget levels probably does. In the article Pat refers to my idea, that smaller awards of public funding, spread more widely, could address the lack of homegrown production. That, and the creation of a platform supporting all Scottish moving image regardless of how it originates, i.e. films made with no public funding and/or films that don’t necessarily fit the conventional models. Such a portal could show a wide range of moving image, from DIY music videos to artist’s films to animations to micro-budget features. My point being that as a brand Scottish Film would have a home and the makers could perhaps benefit if only by being acknowledged for their contribution to the culture.

Last year on a trip to Amsterdam I was stopped in my tracks by a 4-storey building – the Netherlands Film Institute – an entire building dedicated to Dutch filmmaking. Nowhere in Scotland is there an equivalent – not that I believe there ought to be – after all, the notion of the ‘institution’ is outmoded. Still, I can’t help but despair every time I walk past the Scottish Ballet HQ, a purpose-built base paid for through the public purse yet which has no visible public entrance. Similarly the other ‘arts’ – theatre, opera, classical and traditional music, the visual arts – all boast bespoke bricks and mortar. Out of all this cultural activity only film has no base in Scotland. Instead it exists in a scattered collection of rented offices, bedrooms, derelict warehouses and factories or redundant public places, e.g. The Govan Town Hall. Or in my case, a garden shed.

As much as I believe Scottish-based filmmakers, myself included, feel demoralised, we only have themselves to blame by not shouting louder or lobbying for better. But then, who’s listening? Like the Emperor’s New Clothes scenario, our cultural leaders delude themselves every time they walk up the red carpet to attend a premiere or make speeches from the Croisette about the vibrancy of Scottish screen culture. Recently Robin MacPherson, Professor of CI at the University of the Highlands and Islands, retweeted that the definition of a musician was ‘someone with £5000 of gear driving a £500 car who travels 100 miles to a £50 gig’. This, he added, was a fair summation of the creative economy. He’s not kidding. Filmmaking in Scotland is Mission Impossible where the only people making a living are those who don’t make films, merely enable those who make them, whatever that means.

So while I muse on the maybes and what-ifs of the Cochno Stone project and the prospects for a future film, I console myself knowing that many people enjoyed watching my video. But as the old saw goes – who do I have to sleep with to get off this picture?

Leave a Reply to May Miles Thomas

  • Vivienne Kelly - 21 September 16 at 2:04 pm - Reply

    Hey may!
    my name is Vivienne, I am a student at GSA studying fine art in my graduating year. I have been researching your work thoroughly and wondered if i could perhaps meet you to learn more about your ideas ?

    • May Miles Thomas - 22 September 16 at 8:31 am - Reply

      Hi Vivienne

      Thanks for the comment. If you email me direct may(at) maybe you could let me know what you have in mind?

      All the best,

  • gaar - 11 November 15 at 8:53 pm - Reply

    Hi – just to say thank you for this film – spent a long time waiting for it’s release and thoroughly enjoyed. I met Harry a few times before his death and he was a very nice man always with time to spend with others. Look forward to your future ventures.

    Best Regards,

    • May Miles Thomas - 12 November 15 at 8:02 am - Reply

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Gaar – much appreciated. Over the years I’ve heard from several people who knew Harry. It’s a shame he died before I could meet him. Glad you liked the film – I take it you’re referring to The Devil’s Plantation’ and not the short film I link to on this page. Right now I’m working on another, completely different film, my next feature – but I hope that if permission is granted to excavate the Cochno Stone that I can be involved in some way. These things always take longer than I would like!

      All the best,

      • gaar - 13 November 15 at 6:43 am - Reply

        Hi May – I watched both the trailer for the “Concho” film and also the full “Devils Plantation” film. I stay not too far away from Tinto and was aware of most of the locations in the DP hence my interest (as well as knowing Harry). It’s a superb way of keeping Harry’s work alive and I’m sure it will be of interest to many more as time passes. I will keep an eye out for your new movie too 🙂

        Best Regards,

        • May Miles Thomas - 13 November 15 at 7:21 am - Reply

          Thanks Gary,

          That’s very kind of you. I’d love the Devil film to be seen more widely. It’s only had a few public screenings but the audience reaction was amazing – a very different experience from watching it at home. I hope Harry would approve – it seems there’s still a lot of interest in his work!


  • mari graham - 1 November 15 at 8:34 am - Reply

    Thanks for a tantalising glimpse of the Cochno Stone May – we’ve waited a long time for this – loved the film.
    As to who you have to sleep with, I wish I knew – all I can suggest is that you keep on doing what you’re doing – and if we can do anything to help, you know where we are.

    • May Miles Thomas - 1 November 15 at 9:36 am - Reply

      Thanks Mari,

      So glad you enjoyed my wee film. In an ideal world it would be great to uncover the Stone – even temporarily – in order to scan it and make a replica. I’ve no doubt the local community would love to be involved but I’m under no delusion about the viability. First, and most important, is that without Mrs. Marks’ permission the project can’t proceed since half of the Stone is on her land. Also, permission would need to be granted by West Dunbartonshire Council and Historic Scotland. This would have to be agreed before any excavation by Glasgow Uni Archaeology Department and given the scale of the task would require a detailed plan. Where a film fits into any of this I’m doubtful because no one has explicitly commissioned me and sadly I can’t work for free on such a major undertaking. How I wish it were different! Let’s see what happens…

      All the best,


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